Is the Professional Pet Sitting Industry Silently Promulgating Pet Care Models of Listing Websites?
Our Letter as Seen in Pet Sitter’s World Magazine March/April 2015 Edition
Thank you for bringing the problem of “listing websites” into focus and for the “Get a Real Pet Sitter” campaign. We were troubled by your survey results. Our interpretation of how these listing websites operate leads us to believe it is important that we express our opinion on the increasing popularity of the online listing business model and the effects on our industry that we see arising out of that business model.
As professional pet sitters, we understand the weight of our responsibilities. Almost everything we do revolves around executing responsible care models. Although there are thousands of different professional pet sitters across the country, our services share a single objective: animal welfare. In a very concrete way, we must first be animal advocates in order to be professional pet sitters. In fact, were we to see an animal in need, many of us would feel a moral obligation to act. It’s in this way that our commitment to animal advocacy is tied to our authentic identities as professional pet sitters. That being the case, we have a question: why are so many of our colleagues silent about the business model seemingly being used by listing websites?
Devaluing an Industry
Listing websites are leveraging millions in venture capital to mainstream their businesses. But are disparate websites, glutted with hobby sitters, legitimate models for delivering responsible care? How do these companies screen, interview, vet, reference- check and train thousands of members? Most professional pet sitting businesses are challenged with performing a talent search that results in a single qualified candidate to interview and vet. And what about State PACFA licensure? Could these online businesses actually have impetus not to manage care?
Sadly, many of our colleagues are not arriving at this issue from the vantage of animal welfare. Instead, they’ve bypassed this point altogether, thereby ceding the very moral high ground that could distinguish their small businesses from massive listing websites. Yet we, as a body of professionals, are the ones most qualified to speak authoritatively on exceptional standards of care. We are the ones who have been pioneering, perfecting and executing professional care in our businesses. Yet we’re largely silent, excepting vague questions of competition, which we precipitously dismiss, judging them benign amateurs. However, it is precisely this judgment that should solicit our attention on the merits of care. It’s the sheer industrial scale and insular nature of the business model itself that’s so alarming. It’s not a single, irresponsible pet sitter who will suffer the consequences of poor care by going out of business. The market corrects that independently.
Likewise, judging the lesser question of competition, absent the greater question of identity misses half the point. Competition is the equation of corporate identity and consumer science. Dismissing these listing companies as irrelevant to the professional pet care industry is foolish. Consumer science is a complex of ever-changing behaviors that form paradigms. Two contributing elements to changing paradigms are social mainstreaming and demographic change/conversion. For argument’s sake, let’s say these listing companies are not our competition. Well, they are nevertheless gaining social acceptance at an unprecedented rate. Major news outlets routinely cite these companies as “the choice” in pet care, often to our exclusion. Likewise, many organizations like the SPCA, etc., have partnered with some of these organizations. Do they support its business model? Maybe it’s time someone asks.
As these organizations become mainstreamed into household names, they could threaten to marginalize our profession. Indeed, it’s already begun to impact the relevance of trade associations. Likewise, according to PSI’s Survey, many of its members are apparently using listing sites. So, these organizations are making significant inroads in co-opting the professional pet sitting industry from the inside out. Indeed, many of these sites have Use Fees for members. If fees from member jobs are funding these sites, are the members indirectly promulgating the care models put forth by these websites?
Likewise, key among changing paradigms is demographics. Some of these websites are attracting a younger demographic. We have a question: if the younger side or our demographic is 30-somethings, and these sites are attracting 20-somethings, what can happen to our client-base (as a percentage of share) over time?
Looking to the Future
What would happen if companies had so much venture capital that they were literally impervious to poor care, bad reviews and even pet deaths associated with their service? Well, we’d hazard a guess: standards would decline and pets would suffer. Such an outcome would impact the professional pet sitting industry and no doubt result in State regulation. Needless to say, being conflicted about our value gives those who would exploit us power to shape our identity.
We cannot surrender our voice to those who would threaten our profession, unless we agree with their message. As professional pet sitters, we are the industry! We need to be the authoritative champions of responsible pet care. Doing so will only elevate the professional pet care industry. Absent the participatory voice of its members, the power of trade associations is negligible. Only we, the professionals who form the basis of PSI’s strength, can amplify its message.
Towards that end, we encourage everyone to use PSI’s “Get A Real Pet Sitter” campaign. Some of our colleagues were reticent to participate, citing a conflict-of-interest. Yet, pre-packaged media shouldn’t be quoted verbatim – it’s “change to suit.” For example, don’t promote CPPS if you’re not certified. Although the bullet-points enumerating our qualifications may differ from business to business, we can all distinguish ourselves from hobby sitters.
Let’s be vigilant in promoting responsible models of care in professional pet sitters. Let’s elevate the playing field! Let’s be vocal, passionate, proactive ambassadors of pet care and animal advocacy!